Brexit and domain registration

In the referendum on June 23, 2016, the British electorate voted to leave the United Kingdom from the European Union. In October 2019, the United Kingdom agreed to the Withdrawal Agreement and at 11:00 p.m. (British Summer Time) on January 31, 2020, officially left the European Union. The Withdrawal Agreement thus took effect on February 1, 2020, and from that point on, the United Kingdom exited every decision-making organ of the European Union; in fact, the British Crown Ministry of Finance was obligated to pay the “divorce check.” A transition period then passed, ending on December 31, 2020.

Gone are the European banners from the palaces of the British center of power, an IT earthquake has hit (although absolutely already predicted) the more than 317,000 .eu domains registered in the UK. These are no longer eligible to exist unless they have been shown to be compliant with the .eu framework by updating their registration data to December 31, 2020. Many businesses have had to develop a migration plan for services and activities to which your .eu domain was linked.

It was not, as mentioned, sudden news: .eu domain owners had known the consequences of Brexit for some time. Some of them moved immediately and implemented their domain strategy quickly. Others, who were not yet ready, had until December 31, 2020 to meet the eligibility requirements.

On December 21, EURid (a nonprofit organization appointed by the European Commission to oversee the operation of the .eu top-level domain name) sent them a reminder urging them to demonstrate that their IT situation is up-to-date, advising them that the domain’s status is declared “SUSPENDED” until March 31, 2021. A domain name in “SUSPENDED” status can no longer support or decline any services or activities (such as website or email), but can be restored when and if the registration data is properly updated to meet the eligibility criteria.

In order to clarify the aspects of the issue, let’s point a cone of light on what are the activities or subjects affected by this provision, taking up and deepening the communication of EURid.

EURid in fact lists the characteristics of the organizations and the of the individuals who will no longer be eligible to hold a .eu domain name after the end of the transition period and more precisely:

  1. UK organisations established in the UK but not in the European Union (“EU”) or European Economic Area (“EEA”);
  2. UK citizens who are not residents of an EEA member state;
  3. Residents of the United Kingdom who are not citizens of the EU.

The notice states that EURid will not allow new registrations or transfers of .eu domain names for those types of organizations and individuals identified above from January 1, 2021. EU citizens residing in the UK remain eligible to hold a .eu domain name once the transition period ends, but will need to update their registration details to prove their citizenship and EU membership.

EURid also emphasizes the magnitude of the impact of losing a .eu domain name and calls the attention of organizations to consider the choices they need to make. Many organizations have chosen to organize themselves by, for example, redirecting to the main website to minimize the impact of the policy decision. Others have had to suffer more severe consequences. Take the case of a U.S. company doing business in the European Union and outside the United Kingdom, but with a .eu domain registered in the U.K.: it found itself in the situation where on January 1, 2021, the .eu domain it owned was taken away or subject to new rules to be followed.

Any .eu domain name withdrawn on January 1, 2021, was then placed “out of service” and will remain so for the next 12 months. It will then be revoked and can be registered by others starting January 1, 2022. This opens new, unknown and risky scenarios for example in terms of trademarks that will be at risk of possible infringement as UK entities will not be able to proceed and make defensive registrations to protect themselves from domain squatting.

(Domain squatting or Cybersquatting is the illegal activity of appropriating domain names corresponding to trademarks of others in order to make a profit)..

As of today, if a person is located in the United Kingdom and intends to obtain a .eu domain, they must verify whether they meet the eligibility criteria set forth in Article 4(2)(b) of Regulation (EC) No. 733/2002, as amended by Regulation (EU) 2019/517 and below:

  1. a citizen of the European Union, regardless of his/her place of residence;
  2. a physical person who is not a citizen of the European Union and who is a resident of a Member State;
  3. a company based in the European Union;
  4. an organization established in the European Union

If, on the other hand, a subject resident in the United Kingdom was already the holder of a .eu domain before Brexit, he must, in order to still have its availability, meet the so-called criteria of suitability, under penalty of withdrawal of the .eu domain name. Here are the requirements:

  1. if the registered office, central administration or principal place of business is located within the EU/EEA (European Economic Area);
  2. if the applicant is resident within the EU/EEA;
  3. if the applicant is a physical person resident within the EU/EEA

Retired domain names, we repeat, will not be available to any other organization or individual for an additional 12 months. On January 1, 2022, all withdrawn domain names will be revoked and made available for registration by other entities.

What will happen now:

  • As of January 1, 2021, EURid will NOT allow the registration of any new domain name by UK registrants;
  • On April 1, 2021, EURid will once again notify all UK registrants via email that their domain is no longer compliant with the .eu framework and that if they do not want to move it from SUSPENDED to permanently RETIRED, there will be changes to be made;
  • On January 1, 2022, as of 00:00:00 CET, all domain names in a “RETIRED” status will be REVOKED and subsequently become AVAILABLE for general registration by eligible applicants.

An interesting and at times comical twist has already occurred: the group supporting Leave, founded by businessman Arron Banks and supported by Nigel Farage, in order to maintain the .eu domain has moved its registration to Ireland. Obviously, the political move sparked waves of criticism on social media.

.eu domains are the expression in digital format of an identity and more precisely of a European identity. With the Brexit, the United Kingdom has chosen to lose the requirements to feel included in this concept, aiming to have total sovereignty without any interference, and has taken the risk of facing every imaginable or unimaginable consequence in social, commercial and legal terms of this detachment.

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